Dystopic movies have been far and few between the past several years. Perhaps that is why Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, loosely adapted from the P. D. James novel The Children of Men, seems like so much of a throwback to the dystopias of the early Seventies and nearly the entirety of the Eighties. At the same time, however, Children of Men is definitely a movie that could only be made in the Naughts of the Twenty First century.
Children of Men takes place in the United Kingdom of 2027. Human beings all over the world have been infertile for 18 years, and it seems clear to most that humanity is on the path to extinction. Nearly government in the world has collapsed, leaving the United Kingdom the last government standing. The United Kingdom is not what once was, instead having become a fascist regime where illegal immigrants are persecuted. In this milieu civil servant Theo Faron (Clive Owen) finds himself with the task of transporting the first pregnant woman in literally years to safety.
Children of Men is an astounding piece of work, easily the best science fiction movie to come out in years. The characters are realistically presented. None of them are a cutout, and each one has his or her share of strengths and flaws. The plot is neither too hurried, nor too slow. Like an author writing a good book, Cuaron lets the film unfold at its own pace. The world presented in the movie is also terrifyingly real, from the violence that erupts all too often in the streets of London to the fascist style slogans the British government displays throughout the film. A government broadcast boasts, "Only Britain soldiers on." Signs read such things as "Avoiding fertility tests is a crime," and "Report all illegal immigrants. Suspicious? Report it."
Of course, even with a remarkable screenplay, Children of Men would not be as great if it were not for solid performances of its cast. Clive Owen is perfect as the typical Englishmen whose circumstances have made him a bit out of his depth. Claire-Hope Ashitey is convincing as Kee, the first pregnant woman in well over decade. Perhaps the best performance is given by Michael Caine, as the political cartoonist (and conspiracy buff) Jasper Palmer (a last name shared by one of his most famous characters, Harry Palmer, from spy movies of the Sixties). I honest believe that Caine should have received a nomination for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Perhaps the strongest points of Children of Men, however, are the film's look and its camera work. Curon told his art department that this film was the "anti-Blade Runner," rejecting overtly futuristic designs. Curon's thought was that all technological advancement would effectively cease by 2014. While the cars look much like the cars of today, looking only slightly futuristic. Video billboards are all over the place, as are computers, but there is nothing that really wouldn't be possible using only today's technology. Indeed, the world of Children of Men looks like one that virtually stopped a mere seven years from now. Buildings, houses, and vehicles are in disrepair. Bexhill, a seaside resort at this time has it has long been, is now a concentration camp for illegal immigrants with burnt out buildings and abandoned vehicles. The art design of Children of Men is remarkable in its portrayal of a world run down.
As great as its art direction is, the strongest part of Children of Men is its camera work. Indeed, the film features "single shot" takes that seem as if they would be impossible to achieve. The shortest of these takes measures in at a little over three minutes. The longest clocks in at over six minutes! Even when one of the long takes isn't on the screen, Emmanuel Lubezki's photography is simply amazing. The movie was nominated for the Oscar for Best Achievement in Cinematography. I can honestly say it deserved to win.
Children of Men is a great film with one of the most memorable climaxes in recent years. It is also a complex film which explores such themes as hope and faith, as well as issues which are relevant today. I rather suspect those who dislike depressing and dark films might not appreciate Children of Men, but those who enjoy well executed films that are intellectually challenging and entertaining, Children of Men is a must see.
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